JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (Don Chaffey, 1963, USA) Only the gods could create a magical object that both heals and preserves peace…but is really an instrument of war bathed in human blood. Jason seeks to avenge the death of his father and claim back the throne to Thessaly, to bring prosperity and justice once again to his homeland and destroy the tyrant who usurped his throne. The story begins with a seer receiving answers from the gods, and the ambitious Pelias condemning the wishes of Zeus and attempting to alter his own destiny. Pelias is told that one child would survive so he orders that all children be executed during the siege, and he profanes a temple of Hera by murdering Aristo’s daughter. He is then warned by a mysterious woman to beware the man with one sandal. A wicked prelude to a children’s film!
Director Don Chaffey and the now legendary Ray Harryhausen team up to create on the greatest fantasy films of all time, their magical alchemy resulting in a wonderful adventure story infused with breathtaking special effects. Though the acting is adequate but not exemplary, it’s Harryhausen’s vibrant creatures that come to life: from the creaking giant Talos to the Children of the Hydra’s Teeth, these stop-motion characters are realistically articulated and beautifully designed, reacting and moving with human emotion. Jason discovers the giant’s Achilles’ heal and, as Talos’ lifeblood gushes onto the hot sand, the iron behemoth sways and grabs his throat in pain. Another fine example is the final scene as the skeletons attack Jason and his cohorts: one skeleton is stabbed through the heart and reacts accordingly and another clutches a wounded arm, like vestigial pain remembered from a previous life. The monsters are an extension of Harryhausen’s brilliance as an artist: he breathes his own life into the soft clay of unliving matter. Bernard Herrmann adds the final touches to this extravaganza with a bombastic score devoid of his usual sting section, utilizing clashing symbols and percussion to accentuate the Argonauts heroism while allowing subtle woodwinds to create suspense and melodrama: this is one of his best scores.
Jason curses the gods though he accepts the services of Hera to complete his quest, but it’s his own relentless courage that allows him to persevere…and win the heart of the lovely woman. He is not a pawn he is a free man! Or so the gods allow him to believe…for now. Final Grade: (B+)